Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lots of Cooking!

In a nutshell, the rest of Belgium was amazing. We ate great fries in Brugge (and Antwerp), great waffles, and had an INCREDIBLE meal at a lovely restaurant in Brussels. We are SO sad to be home.

But, since I haven't started classes yet, we've had some opportunity for cooking. Here's what we've made:


It's the time of year where soup is divine. Plus, I find it an excellent lunch. So we've made the following soups:
  • Vegetable Soup - a big, big pot. I used it as a basis for a really lovely minestrone soup (which is quickly becoming something I'm REALLY good at)
  • Egg Drop Soup - with lots of spinach. Really, a lovely treat
  • Alma's Cooked Water Soup - From a Lidia Bastianich cook book. Basically, water and chard. Then, you use the broth to poach eggs for a great meal. It's a keeper, and will likely be better at the end of summer when chard is actually in season...

Along with the egg drop soup we made a stir fry of our own creation, with lots of veg. Super tasty and really simple


I tried a Vegetarian Times Israeli Couscous salad that turned out great. It had couscous, saffron, tomatoes, leeks, fennel, arugula and a sauce from veg broth. Again, might have been better when leeks are in season (although I LOVE winter, I hate the lack of great produce), but still, a real winner. We might make it with less couscous and more veg (or a protein source? Chickpeas!!) in the future.


Last night we made another VT recipe for chili with dark ale. I guess Belgium got to us?? It was simple - black beans, corn, tomatoes, chipotle peppers, cumin, onion, garlic, red pepper and beer (we used Brooklyn Brewery's Dark Chocolate Stout, since we have it) and let it get super thick. It was good, but a bit too bitter for me. (Darn sweet tooth!)


Last weekend my sister was in town and we invited our cousin to join us and her boyfriend for dinner. We had 2 bottles of wine, really good bread and cheese (thanks cus!), salad (thanks again cus!), minestrone and "make your own pizza." That was a hit! We had sauteed veg (mushrooms, onions, peppers), lots of seasonings and cheese. It was a hit! A really great thing to do for dinner.

Tonight is a bean casserole. The beans have been soaking and I'm excited to start cooking it. Next week, food prep will be mostly on the weekends since I start class again.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thoughts on Brussels

The Pedant has written about some of the many things we've done and eaten in Brussels. Basically, this city is lovely. It's small enough to walk everywhere and the architecture is beautiful. We seem to miss good weather: when we were here 2 weeks ago it was snowy and cold; this week it's been in the 40s but rainy and foggy. It's not too bad though. TP talked about chocolates and beer and other Belgian foods, I'll talk about the other foods we've had and thoughts about the city.

1) Pastry: We had a pain au chocolate and a pain au raisin the first morning we were here from a small bakery in the center of the city, Lowry. They were both very tasty and perfectly flaky. We also woke up after a nap yesterday and came down to the main room of our B&B just as the staff were having their King Cake for Epiphany. How could I object when they offered us to join them?? I've never had king cake before, but it was very good. The crust was flaky and there was a really lovely almond filling.

2) Sandwiches: As a cost saving measure, we try to eat on a budget during meals. Also, we don't really know how to rate restaurants - many just look fair and super touristy. Plus, I don't eat Mussels which is a big thing at these restaurants. We've eaten some great sandwiches. Thursday for lunch we had sandwiches with our fries. Tasty. Today, we had a cheese or ham-and-cheese sandwiches at a little Sandwich near the Central Station. It was nothing fancy, but very simple and tasty.

3) Chocolate: What can I say? I walk into a store and get overly excited. I've eaten so much already...and we have bought many truffles to take home. And there are 2 more cities we have to visit!

4) I am in awe of Belgians - they are able to eat chocolates, waffles, fries, nutella and then drink beer and are all THIN. I guess if I move here and eat all this stuff, I won't gain weight, right? Right? Right??

5) The beers (well, lambics since I dislike beer) are often in smaller bottles here - 25 cL (about a cup or so). I think it's a great idea. I would totally enjoy a lambic or the Hogaarden Rosee we had at lunch with a meal more often since it's less than a bottle at home. That means a) fewer calories and b) less of an opportunity to get drunk. Really, much more civilized.

Brussels Travel Tips

1) Service at anywhere sit down is friendly but leisurely. They don't feel compelled to give you your check or follow up with you. Like, ever. However, once they come around to your table, the serving staff are your bestest friends ever.

2) The Brussels Central (Bruxelles Central/Brussel Centraal) train station is like an alternate universe version of New York's Penn Station where everything is modern and clean, it's not too crowded, and there are informational signs everywhere.

The Brussels Metro system is cleaner than the New York subway, but smells just as much like pee, if not moreso, as if someone decided to go all Mannekin Pis all the way down each walkway. Also, you don't need to swipe your ticket all the time, just have it validated in case someone checks.

3) The road structure of Brussels completely thwarts the non-SAS or Green Beret in keeping a solid direction sense, especially on a cloudy day. You will find yourself heading in the exact opposite direction for several blocks, but then, since everything in Brussels is right next to everything else, you'll pretty much be where you want to be anyway.

4) 25 centiliters of beer is remarkably cheap in Brussels supermarkets. Go buy plenty; it's less than $2 a bottle, which you basically can't get for beer of any real quality in the US.

5) Coca Cola is cheaper anywhere but vending machines, which are cheaper anywhere but the airport. Coca Cola "Light" (what we call "Diet") with lemon seems to have real lemon juice in it and is worth drinking.

6) The Magritte museum is closed this January, but that's probably for the best, given that it likely has a Magritte-style approach to geometry, and is therefore a madhouse of floating items, faceless men, openings to the sky where items should be, etc.

Brussels Chocolate and Other Dessert Review

We're doing this by manufacturer/retailer.

Jean-Phillipe Darcis, 14 Petite Rue au Burre:

A cute little shop we stumbled by almost through accident. They do a very professional job, although I can't say their assortment is that far removed from their competitors.

La Cure Gourmand:

Off the Grand Place, La Cure Gourmand does not really sell much chocolate. They do cookies, hard candies, and chocolate novelties like their peanut M&M-style "chocolate olives," but for those looking for a Godiva-style seller of "pralines," this is not the right store.

However, what they do sell and we found delicious were their exotic caramels, including coffee and sesame flavors. They also sell really pretty tins, both with and without candy in them.

De Rose Damas, 19 Rue de Marche au Herbes:

This is a Middle Eastern confectioner, making both traditional baklava-style sweets and Belgian/Levantine "fusion" desserts. We got a small assortment from the shopkeep, and everything was sweet, crunchy, and wonderful, although we preferred the pistachio-filled crunchy pastries to the softer ones filled with fig paste.

Passion Chocolat:

A small store off the Place du Sablon, Passion Chocolat surprised us with its slightly different approach to truffle-like chocolates. Here, immersion in particular flavors seems to be the theme; there's a peanut-shaped truffle filled with peanut butter, a coffee-cup shaped truffle filled with coffee ganache, and a truffle with a coffee bean on top filled with a marzipan/coffee mix. Those, and the almond-crusted Grand Marnier ganache truffle, make it well worth your visit.


We probably don't need to review this, since you get a 25% off coupon in your Brussels Card guidebook, but it's a pretty decent store, if a teensy bit touristy, off the Grand Place. Unlike several of the touristy places off the Grand Place, it does make its own truffles, and none of them look like the Mannekin Pis (the little peeing boy fountain that Brussels is famous for; it's great that the city can laugh at itself, but I'm not sure that anyone really wants to eat a rainbow-colored assortment of chocolates in peeing boy shapes, as one shop sold). We ate a bag of caramel lace cookies dipped in chocolate that we got from Elizabeth, and they were pretty incredible; despite their odd cup-like shape, I would call them nearly the Platonic lace cookie; the lace cookie from which all other lace cookies should be measured. We haven't yet tried their spoons with chocolate to be dissolved in hot milk (some including alcohol), but we're looking forward to.

We also bought a bunch of things from Pierre Marcolini and Wittamer in the Place du Sablon, but we know both of those places are tasty, so you'll have to wait until we get home and eat them to learn about those.

Enjoying the Fruits of War and Colonization

Here we are in Brussels, a land made tasty by the subjugation of faraway lands. We have chocolate (gained in Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, grown by forced African labor for many years), coffee (more conquering and plantations in Africa), french fries (potatoes gained from Spanish conquest of the Andean peoples), and pastry (gained during brutal French and/or Austrian occupation of Belgium).

Honestly, you don't read this blog to learn about the historical stuff we saw, although the ruins of Coudeberg Palace and the comic strip museum are pretty awesome. So let's talk about food and drink.


We went to Fritland, just off the Grand Place (the city center in Brussels with all the 17th C. buildings). You have two fry options at Fritland - fries on a plate, or fries in a sandwich. The sandwiches are full of things that are either grill-fried or dunked in the same fry-o-lator as the french fries. You can also, instead of a sandwich, get fried foods along with your fries.

The fries are awesome. There are too many sauces for us to rate (we had mixed feelings about the "curry ketchup," and whatever kind of spicy mayo "samourai" is, it's okay, but not awesome), but the fries are crispy-tasty-riffic. You will, however, order too many. The fry portions are big, and unless you are a massive glutton, one container of fries (or a sandwich-full, as "sandwich" means "foot of baguette-like bread with stuff in it") is already too much.

GAUFRES (Waffles!):

The most common waffle here is a large, puffy thing that people put various toppings on. We ignored many waffle places for not looking tasty enough (the truck with the Smurfs on it outside the Musical Instrument Museum, the waffle place down the street from the Central Station which everyone on Tripadvisor hated, the waffle place advertising "Australian" ice cream), and bought a waffle with whipped cream and strawberry slices on top at Elizabeth near the Grand Place. We didn't go to the one at Leonidas off the Grand Place because I kept making 300 jokes to myself in my head.

If you can master the serrated-edged plastic fork that they give you with your waffle, the waffle is a tasty, pre-sugared delight. Do eat it sitting down, though; it's tough to cut with your funny plastic fork while standing.


You get a beer with your entrance to the Brewer's Guild Museum. The Sherbs and I both got a Bell-vue Kriek (cherry lambic), which, despite the bizarre lambic ritual that they do here (pour from tap, scrape off foam with knife, dunk bottom of glass in cold water to wash off scraped foam dribble, dry off bottom of glass on cloth), is pretty tasty. Frankly, we haven't had a kriek we didn't like - Bell-vue, Lindeman's, and Mort Subite "X-Treme" are all pretty tasty and cherry-flavored. They're still a little more beery than a "malt beverage," but that, I think, makes them more flavorful.

There are also framboises, which are lambics with raspberry flavor. Both Mort Subite "X-Treme" and Hoegaarden Rose are pretty good; Hoegaarden is less sweet, for those who like that sort of thing.

Not recommended: Delerium Tremens's "Cactus" lambic. It's green. It tastes more like agave than you want a fruity beer to taste.

In the lambic family is gueze, which the Sherbs calls "beer for people who don't like beer"; it's lighter and sweeter than regular beer. La Morte Subite's house brand is pretty good in this regard.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

More Foods of the Holy Land

Back at Samir's on Saturday, where we got carrots and zucchini stuffed with rice and spices, then stewed. Also, in addition to the warm mashed chickpea dish mussabekha (as the Sherbs's uncle unhelpfully says, "rhymes with apricot"), we got some pretty tasty foul (pronounced "fool"), made with some sort of kidney-looking beans. And, of course, the usual pita and salad.

Last night, I went to Shuree Buree in Herzlia, the coastal town just north of Tel Aviv. Shuree Buree basically does one thing: first, you get lots of little dishes of salads and such. Then, you order a fish. You get the fish however you specified the chef to cook it, or you get it fried. That's it.

Still, they do a great job with fish, and you get plenty of bread for the tahina, tzatziki sauce, and guacamole. You can also order french fries, called "צ'פס" (chips) in Hebrew; I use the Hebrew because I want to pretend that "tzips" are not as fattening as french fries. Especially not the ones at Burger Ranch which come mixed with onion rings and bits of hot dog.